Married to an army officer for the last so many years, we have moved on countless postings from one quaint station to another, at near regular intervals, re-setting up our small little world into cubby houses allotted us in these places. An old friend of mine from the civil street asked me once- “How do you live in such small stations? Don’t you get bored?”. The question took me by surprise as I had never really thought of our situation in these terms. According to me, the place where I physically resided was simply a reference point. What really mattered was – ‘Where was I residing mentally’?
We recently got posted to Bhutan and the experience of staying in the land of ‘Gross National Happiness’ has been a pleasant validation of this very theory. My best friend of last ten years is a Bhutanese and her carefree, happy-go-lucky and uncomplicated approach to life had always fascinated me. Today, residing in her country and watching the Bhutanese go about their lives in their typical unhurried and content pace has been a tremendously satisfying experience for me. People here lead a relatively simple life. They still have the joint family system relatively intact in place, unlike in India where it has more or less dissipated, particularly from the urban spaces. The Bhutanese respect their parents and are law abiding citizens. Even in the absence of traffic police to monitor them, they abide by traffic rules and the crime rate in Bhutan is one of the lowest in the world. The youth of the country learn responsibility at a young age by getting involved in the national service programme called Desuung which entails voluntary social service by students each month for community development projects. The Bhutanese respect their King and have complete faith in his laws and rules.
Bhutan has challenging climatic conditions and hilly terrain which makes it difficult to grow crops and generate livelihood. It is difficult to obtain basic amenities in remote reaches of the country and the routine shopping malls, discs, pubs and movie theatres of India are nowhere to be found here. This, however, doesn’t seem to bother the locals and their attitude towards their life and livelihood always seems positive. They practice the concept of living in the present. They seem content managing just enough for today, be it food, supplies or other amenities. They don’t overly perturb themselves with worries of saving for the future. This, I’m sure, helps keep their life simple. Bhutan and the Bhutanese revere nature and Bhutan is considered the ‘Carbon Sink’ of the world being the only ‘carbon-negative’ country. By respecting and worshipping nature, they maintain the much needed harmony with it. Bhutan is a peace loving country. They believe in ‘Karma’, which makes them responsible for their behaviour as individuals. All these factors contribute to making them content, in sync with their environment and a ‘Gross-National-Happy’ nation.
In stark contrast, the rest of the world seems to be in a tearing hurry to get someplace which it possibly cannot even define. People tend to exhaust themselves in a rat-race towards success and money, such that at the end of the day they have little time or energy to actually enjoy the fruits of their labour. They save for tomorrow, making the present miserable, living an illusion that one day they will take that break. They are unknowingly running a race on a track which does not have a finish line. More money, more appreciations, more luxuries, more laurels only create cravings for ‘more’. Therefore, while it is important to keep oneself motivated and striving to do better, a balance is a must. This race should not be at the cost of one’s health, one’s family time, one’s time for one’s own self and one should be able to, in the end, discern what truly matters and what is irrelevant.
Bhutan’s culture, the people of Bhutan and Bhutan’s gift to the world –‘Gross National Happiness’ truly set the right course on this accord, for the rest of the world. This gets me back to the original question – ‘Where does one really live?’ The truth of the matter is that one spends most of his or her time not staying in big or small cities, posh or poor houses, but in one’s own mind and with one’s own thoughts. If you are in a happy state of mind, content and satisfied with yourself and your surroundings then it wouldn’t matter if yours is a one room apartment or a three storey bungalow. The Bhutanese seem to exemplify this truth. One can be happiest in a small room shared with four people because of the company or the memories one is making there and alternatively, one can be contemplating suicide despite being at the pinnacle of one’s career and success graph, simply for want of peace of mind. What good are four-lane roads, posh and classy malls or 5-star hotels and restaurant, if either your health or mood does not allow you to enjoy these places in the true sense? My experience of army life has been that one spends the most wonderful of time at the smaller stations where there are no shopping malls or fancy restaurants to keep you fruitlessly distracted. Instead, you have the impromptu picnics or back-breaking adventure rides on roads less travelled to reach pristine desolate places in the company of the most joyful faces, genuine smiles and warm friends. These have been the places where one has really got time to cherish the company of one’s family and loved ones and new friendships and bonds have been forged which will outlast all other relations.
When my friend asked me that question long ago on how I stayed in such remote and desolate places in the army - I was not prepared with a suitable reply. Today, I have the answer. I always live in a beautiful place - with my loved ones and with time by my side and with all that truly matters to me. I live not in small or big towns but in a ‘state of contentment and peace of mind’ – I live ‘in the moment’. I have Bhutan and my lovely experiences here to thank for this wonderful life lesson.